Brain Injury in American Football: 130 Years of Knowledge and Denial

Image: The Dirt Canon.
Image: The Dirt Canon (DirtCanon.com)

Brain Injury in American Football: 130 Years of Knowledge and Denial

The 1890s: Cerebral Risks Confirmed on Gridiron

Part One in A Series

By MATT CHANEY | 28 July 2015

As American football officials tell the story today, brain injury among players is a fledgling issue, identified only in recent years, the 2000s.

Administrators, coaches, trainers, doctors, and researchers of contemporary football say they have only begun to grasp brain risk for players, while otherwise declaring no need for alarm. Officials say parents and children must not worry because dangers are exaggerated and countermeasures are in place.

The game embraces “concussion awareness” as never before, committing unprecedented dollars to research and prevention. “Heads Up Football,” for example, the program said to teach headless hitting to youths, is a household term for its $45 million in development and publicity funded by the NFL and players union.

But are traumatic brain injuries [TBI] and policy-making actually newfound for the collision sport?

Is the football institution—generations of administrators, coaches, trainers, doctors—really just comprehending TBI among players and what might be done? That’s the official claim, anyway, especially for legal defense against lawsuits filed by former players and families.

Historical events tell a different football story, meanwhile, in an extensive review of news databases by this investigator. Generally, the factual past conflicts with official versions proffered today.

Because the dilemma of head injuries inherent for tackle football—brain “concussion” foremost, broadly defined for varying states of severity—has reared regularly in public since the Victorian Era. Periodic controversies have spanned three centuries and affected most decades of the game, including the 1890s, 1900s, 1920s, 1930s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and 2010s.

Along the way, football has seen every type of brain trauma in players, consistently, predictably. Countless cases publicized since the 1800s have ranged from debilitating headaches to fatal hemorrhaging, and officials have tried much for preventing casualties while managing “return to play” of injured athletes, if never realizing success.

Several outright failed initiatives have been recycled, repackaged and promoted anew in periods over the continuum—like old “head up” theory, publicized in 1925 yet presently promoted as cutting-edge, Heads Up “technique.”

ChaneysBlog presents a series on the history of football collision, brain injury, and policy, with this first article examining football in its formative phase, the latter 1800s—when officials made promises of safety reform that echo yet.

So-called protective helmets, rule changes, medical supervision, proper coaching, and safer colliding have been promoted for a century and longer in American football. Continue reading »

MY GUILTY PLEASURE DESCRIBED

By Logan Cartwright | 18 March 2015

Concussions by Position in the NFL, 2013. Source: DirtCanon.com.
Concussions by Position in the NFL, 2013. Source: DirtCanon.com.

[Excerpt] Football is and has always been a brutal sport. It satiates our bloodlust. It feeds the ancestral need to watch brutes maim each other in the Coliseum.

We watch more intently now, devour fantasy stats, play in leagues, play online and buy merchandise. We obsess and have been consumed by a product that promotes violence, while we swivel away when that violence spills over into real world.

We watch fascinated, as young men mature up the ladder to hopefully play professional football – knowing the inherent risks involved – just for that chance at eternal glory the mob showers their heroes with – only to later bemoan their suffering.

The NFL has been called out for the cover-up of head trauma and parents have begun to opt out, not letting their sons play football. The media acting as town crier, continues to signal the end of Pro-Football and yet the adoration advances.

The Town Crier is shouting, this is the beginning of the end for the NFL. Calling this the tip of the iceberg for the League and too recognize how dangerous the game has become.

The NFL counters that concussions are down, and that may be true, but this is a sport built on the assumption of brutality. One on one battles actually exist, bones are broken, blood is spilled, exotic sports cars conducting ballet with dump trucks and we love every minute of it – fall can not come soon enough.

But what of the product?

Will the cries of fervor and weekly campaigns of “think of the children,” against the league change how football is watched? All the players that are retiring of injuries and fear of “after-football” will be replaced by others seeking idolatry – there will always be those willing to sacrifice themselves for our sanguine hunger for the adulation of hero worship. Continue reading »

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